May 8, 2020
Dear NCBA Members:
As the NCBA leadership navigates its way through the current pandemic, I was moved to wonder about the NCBA Presidents who led the association during the last global pandemic. Surely, that was a terrible time. The 1918 Spanish influenza is estimated to have infected 500 million people (about one-third of the world’s population at the time) and killed between 50 million and 100 million people from 1918-20.
At that time, NCBA annual meetings were held in late November, not May. The NCBA President elected in 1917 was Henry L. Maxson, a partner in Maxson and Jones. At the time of his election, World War I was in full swing. I’m sure that President Maxson was focused on the unprecedented global military news as he started his term … and had no idea that the summer of 1918 would bring very different global headlines.
The “Spanish Flu” hit Queens in March 1918, and was first mentioned in a Long Island newspaper in July 1918. Two months later, the first confirmed Long Island case was reported. The outbreak raged through the rest of 1918,
leading to the November election of NCBA President William Soper Pettit, a civic leader who also served as Special Counsel to the Nassau County Board of Supervisors, Chairman of the drafting commission for the Nassau County Charter, Chairman of the Nassau County Child Welfare Board, President of the Nassau County Historical and Genealogical Society, and President of the Long Island Y.M.C.A.
NCBA President Pettit was elected as World War I came to an end. But while he must have breathed a sigh of relief that the global war was over, he would face the tail end of the Spanish Flu’s wrath. He was succeeded by NCBA President Charles J. Wood, who presided over two less serious follow-up infection waves before the outbreak ran its course.
At the time of these Presidents, Domus would not be constructed for yet another decade. NCBA Board meetings were held at the courthouse or other local establishments. It is unknown what “social distancing” protocols were put into effect. I don’t know whether the courts were closed, or if so, for how long. I don’t know what limits were put on jury trials. Published guidelines from the federal government said: “Keep out of crowds and away from theatres, movie houses and other places where people come together in large numbers. If you have a cold, start treating it immediately; carry a clean pocket handkerchief and when using it do not flap it about. Keep the nostrils and other breathing passages clean. Three times a day use a gargle made up of half a teaspoonful of table salt, half a teaspoonful of baking soda and six ounces water.”
This time around, we have adhered to much stricter lockdowns and social distancing protocols, and we have the benefit of the technological advancements that have given us Zoom and virtual meeting options. As President, my first priority has been the safety of our members. I miss Domus as much as anyone. I was there for lunch several days every week for most of my term. Within seconds of entering the Great Hall, I’d see Gary pouring me an unsweetened ice tea. I miss Domus, and miss seeing you all in person. I hope you miss Domus, too. And I hope to see you there again in the not-too-distant future.